If you’ve been considering checking out Amazon’s episodic Vella serials, I’m here to recommend five original, polished products that start with an opening that will get you hooked.
Vella, if you didn’t know, offers readers an interactive reading experience through author notes and “thumbs up” of episodes. Readers can also vote for their favorite Vellas by offering faves in hopes that their beloved stories earn a crown. More importantly, all Vella serials are free for the first three episodes, and Amazon also gives readers 200 credits at the minimum to kick off their experience on the Vella platform.
Since I’m both a Vella author and an editor, I recently offered a free first-page critique for serials of varying genres. I was impressed by the quality of the writing as well as the variety of crossover genres and inventive strategies for presenting author comments. (And this is the fun part, because that’s where you can see the inside scoop or find opportunities to give suggestions or feedback in real time on their websites). You can also join Vella Facebook author groups to get talk directly with authors. For example, here’s a great site for lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers.
There were so many stories I loved (and some I didn’t), but here are my top five Vella recommendations, based on a stellar first page, for January 2022.
N. Y. Seely
“Sidekick Wanted. No experience necessary. This sounds like the perfect side hustle for a financially-challenged bicycle courier like me. Besides, who doesn’t want to be a hero?”
Sidekick is a smart, slick, comedic ride through the streets of near-future Portland, Oregon on the back of a twenty-something courier-turned-superhero-sidekick’s bike. Seely’s voice deftly propels the story as it weaves through pop culture and superheroic jargon and allusions. Ride with Callisto as she dodges traffic and carries out mysterious missions for her faceless boss. The writing is fluid and fast-paced with a seemingly effortless pepper-spray of jargon. This genre-crossing comedic futuristic adventure story is as entertaining as it is well-written, and the author notes will keep you reading to learn more about Callisto’s hijinks.
“On paper, Detective Fox Argall is a hero: handsome, wildly over-educated, eccentric, adoring his wife with epic passion. When a string of broken children arrive on his doorstep like offerings, Fox is forced to follow the breadcrumbs to a showdown with an old and dangerous enemy.”
Looking for a mystery story that’s as polished as it is suspenseful? Welcome to book one of the Fox Argall Mystery series. Chapter One: “The Beginning: Countdown from Darkness,” is lyrical and character driven. You’ll be hooked from the moment you experience the terror of the “small soul” in the woods who might yet live and find “helping hands and deliverance” if Fox can solve the mystery quickly enough. In Ruin, MacCrae pulls off a rare feat — a unique POV in which we learn about our protagonist through the eyes of those who both love and fear his quirky, self-absorbed, and brilliant persona. Through MacCrae’s skillful narration, you’ll be as invested in his wife and detective partners as you are Fox. You might even like them more than Fox — but ultimately only Fox can save the day.
“For as long as they can remember, Arron and Pix have known life in a woodland tower with the man they call Father — a grizzled old mage from a bygone era. But when the past deeds of their benefactor come calling, they suddenly find themselves deep in a world foreign and perilous.”
The Wizard’s Kin is a young adult story that is complex and rich enough for adults and kids alike. It opens with humor: a fresh take on human/elf relations is depicted through a conversation as unscrupulous and bickery humans discuss the oddity of elves. The scene ends satisfyingly with the scoundrels being outwitted by the elf-teens, Arron and Pix. However, young Arron and Pix are quickly plunged into an even deeper and more complex fantasy world as they discover more about their powers and the dangers that surround them. With a compelling storyline and warm themes of family, loyalty, and self-discovery, you’ll enjoy Grayson’s talented depiction of these Wizards’ Kin coming-of-age.
“Betsy Dark is 87 years old. She cooks BBQ, helps her neighbors, and, two years ago, became a vampire.”
Told through multiple POV, the narration is sardonic, dark (as promised) and tongue in cheek. How could it not be, when the protagonist is a grandmother turned during a tryst with a vampiric Earl MacDonell of Dorcha? This seduction in part is because Betsy had drunk “far more whiskey than a woman her age should have. What, with her bladder issues and all. Chuckle as you will, dear reader. But Betsy would challenge you to have four children naturally, then live to be eighty-five years old and see if you don’t soil a knicker or two.” Despite this fantastic scene, it’s the opening that really delivers — a punch. For Hallford begins our story with a boxing batch in which Betsy Dark gets her dentures knocked out and then stops time — for just a moment– so that she can reinsert her dentures and take just a nibble at her opponent.
“When Amy falls through a portal, she finds herself in a world where mythological creatures exist and humans don’t. Captured by a terrifying insect warlord … she must navigate a bizarre new land and stay one step ahead of a creature bent on ruling his world. With technology from hers. Technology that only exists in the movies.”
Meet Amy, a young anthropologist who begins episode one by performing a fascinating autopsy on an equally fascinating and inexplicably strange-looking and mystical bear. The quirky, inventive opening (aptly titled “Amy and the Unbearable Bear”) soon requires Amy to harness all her anthropological skills, as well as to suspend her disbelief, when the creature reveals itself to be related to a “single horned, three eyed, shaggy black creature from Cantabrian folklore.” The kicker is that this creature is the same one featured on the cover of Amy’s deceased mother’s book. A book which, until now, Amy assumed was fiction. With strong characters, original worldbuilding, and a fun metafictional blend of mystery and adventure, you’ll watch Amy navigate the fantasy realm that ensnares her.
I’ll be critiquing and reviewing more Vellas next month, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, remember: while Amazon makes you log into your account to view its Vella platform, the first three episodes are always free, so you can shop around and get to know the authors. If you enjoy reading serials and interacting with authors, check out the FB Vella groups to ask authors questions and let them know what you think of their work!
Kendra Griffin is an indie author, writing teacher, and developmental editor who has never met a good dog or a good underdog she didn’t fall in love with. Learn more about Kendra on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Her Vella serial is called A People’s History of Magic, and the first 3 episodes, like all Vella serials, are free.